It’s been a while since I started a discussion on Christian fundamentals. It’s time I got back to it. Check out the begining post as well as this one about the real Jesus and this one about defining fundamental.
So why do I feel the need to go down this path? Well, that’s a long story (and this is a long post). Some of it I’ve aluminated here in other posts, but I’ll attempt to put it all together here.
Though I had grown up in church and had been taught the Bible throughout childhood, my Christian journey began in earnest after my sophmore year in college. It was then I met up with members of the Cincinnati Church of Christ, a part of what was later to become the International Churches of Christ (ICoC). I started to go to some Bible studies and eventually entered into a personal Bible study series. I was then confronted with the realities of discipleship and commitment. I realized that my casual, simple, vague ‘belief’ was not enough. God demanded all of me, all of my heart, mind and soul, and if I was to be sincere about this Christianity, I must change. Frankly, it was a tough decision. Life as I had been living it was pretty good, if dull. Things were relatively easy outside of the challenges of school, but I always felt as if there was something more. What I saw in front of me as a true Christian was purpose, meaning, joy, community and depth, all of which I lacked and longed for. But along with it came responsibility to God for my actions, challenges to stay on the narrow path and an obligation to care for others. Was I willing to take the challenges with the blessings? I ultimately decided that I had no choice. I loved God and could not turn away now, not knowing what I do. I could not go back to the content simple life of a man who didn’t know better. I was baptized on August 26th, 1988.
What a whirlwind followed over the following years. I found friends like I never thought possible. People that I could share my darkest secrets with (and did) and get help, compassion and understanding in return. I remember those college days with great fondness. Those were formative years and I was surrounded with great young men and women. I’m blessed to still have relationships with a couple of them here in Columbus, a few others I see from time to time in other cities. We had great passion for being our best for God and helping each other do the same. We were involved intimately with each other’s lives. When one would fall, we would rush to help him up. We were together constantly. The passing of time has probably put a certain gloss on those years, smothing over the bad times. I know that we made mistakes in our zeal, but my experience was overwhelmingly positive.
After college, I entered the singles ministry and later met my wfe to be. She enthralled me from day one. Again, I was surrounded by incredible men and great relationships. They gave me advice on how to express my growing feelings for her and still keep the relationship pure. Without these men and their advice, I know that the start of my relationship with Maria would have been much more difficult as my emotions and passion would have most certainly overcame my convictions about God’s standards.
We got married and moved to Detroit at the same time. We were blessed to be discipled by the same couple for 4 years. Their example of marraige and family had a great impact on me. I have always looked up to them and admired them. Their two incredible children are grown and gone and they stand as a testimony to their faith and perseverance. They stood by us and helped us through many an early marraige crisis. We were able to call them at any time (and did) with a problem and they were there for us. I don’t know where we’d be without them.
We left Detroit in 1996 to come to Columbus on a ‘mission team’. We were two of 25 that came from Detroit, Chicago, Cincinnati and Cleveland to start a new church. We had great dreams of turning Columbus upside down with God’s message. We would build a church that would restore true Christianity here. Those first years were incredible. We grew from 25 to about 125 in around two years. In those first weeks we met daily, sharing about all the ways we had shared our faith with people, who we met and how they had responded. Amazing things happened. The OSU gymnastics coach (and USA Olympic assistant coach at the time) had been told of our new church by an ICoC member when he was at the Olympics in Atlanta. Later, that person left his name and contact info with our minister, who lost it. But on campus shortly before our first service, the minister’s wife met a tall white man who said he was the coach they had been trying to find and he’d love to come. He gave her his number. Later, when she called to follow up, though she had reached the gymnastic coach and yes he had met someone in Atlanta, he said had never heard of her. He came to church and turned out to be not tall and white, but short and black. Neither remembered ever meeting the other, but there he was.
Maria and I moved here without jobs and without savings. We found out the day we left that she was pregnant with baby #2, and we had no insurance. We lived in my sister’s basement for a month while we looked for jobs and a place to live. We found a man that rented us a 3 bedroom townhouse with no references becuase he just ‘knew we’d do fine.’ Maria got a job quickly with a temp agency and within 6 weeks I had a fulltime job with a fledgeling design firm. Their insurance would cover Maria’s pregnancy, a great relief. Our incomes were higher and our expeses lower. It seemed that God was with us.
I mentioned that the couple in Detroit ‘discipled us’. The ICoC had been founded on the principle of discipling relationships, amoung other things. The principal there was that a more mature Christian would mentor, or ‘disciple’ you as you grew as a Christian. As you can tell, I benefited greatly from these realtionships. If it weren’t for these men over the years, I would not be who I am today, not even close. Unfortunately, there were terrible abuses of disipling, incorporating ‘one over another’ authority into the mix. Discipling relationships as they were originaly are almost non-exsistant in out churches today.
I grew up as a Christian as the ICoC grew as a movement. We were small, in only a dozen or so cities when I became a Christian in 1987. By the year 2000, we had a church in every country that had a city of over 100,000 people in it. We had a passion. We were going to do as they did in the first century, win the world. Evangelism was our priority. We went to the malls, we knocked on doors, we talked to our neighbors, our co-workers, stopping people anywhere and inviting them to study the Bible or come to church. We were tied together through discipling. We all had disciplers that told us how to live for God. Smaller churches were Discipled by larger, older ones. We were expected to follow God’s standard in the scriptures for giving, sharing and avoiding sin. We were challenged if we didn’t. God’s standard was high and ours were expected to be as well. It was exhilarating. I felt as though I was a part of something big and meaningful. We had a God ordained job to do.
If it all sounds a bit arrogant, presumtuous and condesending, well, it was that too. I remember proclamations that we were the ‘one true church’ and that God would draw all true Christian to our movement, ‘The modern day movement of God.’ Many stupid and unloving things were said and done in the name of God, the mission, unity, obedience to leaders or other things. Many folks were hurt. My wife and I escaped much of that, thankfully, but we have known others who were not so fortunate. We were criticised for these abuses, but we brushed those people off as ungodly persecuters. About a year and a half ago, a leader named Henry Kriete wrote a 41 page paper titled “Honest to God” listing and challenging these abuses and calling us to change. It sent a shock wave through our churches. Many leaders resigned or were fired, many people left the churches as they learned of thses things. Many disciples, emboldened by the times, spoke out harshly against their leaders, inflicting the same pain on them that they were so angry over. Discipling trees and leadership structures were dismantled. All leadership above the church level is gone.
At this time, I too was pretty shaken up. I was forced to consister what I believed and why. What was truly important? Did one really have to have a discpler to be saved? Sounds silly, but at one time I might have agreed with that. How about quiet times, tithing, what church to go to? I have resolved many of these, but how to identify God’s church is one that still eludes me. During the past 17 years the idea that I belonged to something big and meaningful was a powerful one. The sense of mission and unity was amazing as well. Frankly, I miss those things. A little part of me longs for a return to the old days, when we were going to save the world. I want a bigger dream.
It seems to me that there ought to be a core that defines Christianity. Things that we can rally around. Things we can unite in. Those things must come from scripture and they must be clear cut. If we simply try to find those things that there is no argument over, we wil have a soggy, milktoast, limp, lifeless religion that does God’s power, might, love and conviction a grave diservice. Christ did not come to earth to get beaten senseless and hung on a cross so we could unite in the idea tha ‘God is love’ or some other such platitude. No, he died that we might live, truly live. I used to look around at the world of ‘Christianity’ and scoff, amazed at their stupidity. I now look with more sober judgement, for I realize that I am stupid to. But I also look and wonder, is this all there is? Arguments and debates over trivial things. Is this the best we can do for a God that loves so much?
No, I am conviced that if we are to call ourselves Christians, we must do more. We must try harder, go farther, sacrifice more and love more radically if we are to do God’s sacrifice any justice. I will not be content with mere contentment and warm, happy feelings. I refuse to believe that this is all there is. I refuse to give up the idealism and dream of a united church. The question is, what do I do with it? What can I do with it?